Airplane crash in Fresno this last Thursday

Discussion in 'Hangar Flying' started by bmcj, Dec 31, 2013.

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  1. Dec 31, 2013 #1

    bmcj

    bmcj

    bmcj

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    My wife and I had been at our diner at Chandler Airport most of the day last Thursday, then left to shop for supplies. We returned a couple of hours later, just as the first police cars were arriving at the airport to respond to an airplane crash. It was perhaps an hour after sunset, but only minutes after the crash... the remnant light of dusk had gone.

    We learned from the few witnesses that a blue and white Cessna 172 had crashed after making several failed approaches in both runway directions, almost touching down, then going around, but never getting very high in the pattern. On the final pass, the pilot was too low and clipped a 40' tree on approach 1400' short of the threshold. The pilot lost the fiberglass wingtip and damaged the landing light, but recovered the plane and continued to fly low along the length of the runway, pulling up sharply at the end. Despite full power, the sharp pull up resulted in a stall-spin to the left where the plane impacted straight down, full power in the front yard of a home at the end (and slightly to the side) of the runway. We know it was straight down, because it was surrounded by the house, a tree, a fence, and power poles and lines, all within 20 feet of the impact zone but none of them were hit by the plane. There was an explosion from the ruptured tanks, but that was secondary.... the initial impact was not survivable. I called NTSB to report it, but found that the police had followed proper procedure and had already notified NTSB/FAA.

    Anyway, I am not telling you this to tell about the crash, but to tell you about the actions and reactions that followed...

    On the night of the crash, the local news stations had apparently gotten early word of the crash and broadcast word of it on TV and radio. We immediately started getting calls and text messages from our non flying friends asking if we were OK; they were worried that it might have been us. For the same reason, we also made a few calls to our friends who we knew had blue and white Cessna 172's. After reassuring ourselves that it was not any of our close friends, we talked to the few witnesses (all pilot friends on the field) about what they saw, and encouraged them to report what they saw to NTSB while it was still fresh in their minds. One of the things we learned was that the two onboard was an 8 year old local boy and his 72 year old great uncle (pilot) who was flying the boy up to Tehachapi, but turned around mid-flight when the boy got homesick. This was according to the boy's mother who was talking with our friend while she waited for them to return (she also witnessed the accident).

    The next day, the airport was a flurry of activity, with police still securing the two points of impact, lots of non-flying gawkers who came out ot see the wreckage, dozens of news crews scrounging for tidbits and news scoops, the regular airport locals and aviation business people, FAA types and the NTSB investigator.

    We tried to stay out of the way of the NTSB investigator, except to tell him who the 'actual' witnesses were. We also tried to avoid the news teams as well, who were more like vultures than fact-gatherers. Most of us at the airport will shun news crews, because we've all seen them discard legitimate information about aviation, only to sensationalize a story with uninformed speculation. One news reporter called the pilot a 'hero' because he steered the plane away from houses and into the front yard... the real truth is that he almost hit one of the only houses next to the airport despite that house being surrounded by hundreds of acres of bare land. There are occassionally exceptions, though, when it comes to news crews. We had one reporter approach us very courteously and asked us if we would speak to him on camera not about the details of the crash, but about how something like this affects pilots. We agreed and and spoke to him about how any death is tragic, especially when it involves a young boy, but when it is a plane crash, there is a good chance it might be someone we know (though in this case, it was not). We told him that flying does have some risks, but so does driving, skiing , motorcycles, etc, and that pilots train to handle emergencies and minimize the risks. He edited the final take for time constraints, but kept the aviation-friendly message intact.

    There was lots of speculation going on too, among the locals on the field, though it was mostly done in small groups and not to the public or news. We all recognize that we do not know the real cause, and that NTSB are the only real chance to POSSIBLY figure out what really happened, but we did still discuss it amongst ourselves. We talked about the possiblity of physical distress (partial heart attack, stroke, carbon monoxide poisoning, etc), lack of night currency (especially in an unfamiliar borrowed plane) or night vision, systems failure (i.e. - failed flaps may have accounted for the high approach speeds, or maybe even pitot static failure). Some even thought that the pilot may have been out, but I don't think an 8 year old could setup multiple approaches, much less recover the plane after striking a tree. There was also the matter of the plane flying some erratic paths west of the airport prior to the 30 minutes of attempted landings (this might favor poor night vision/currencey with the pilot looking for the airport).

    We did have a few people looking for facetime on the camera and speculating to the news crews. One instructor in particular was goiing on about what happened, until the flight school owner called him out of the room and told him to cool itl While he was out, we pointed out to the news crews that he and others who had been talking to them were nowhere near the airport when the accident happened.

    As a final note, the wreckage has been moved to a secure site for investigation. No one (including the NTSB) knows what happened yet, but hopefully the final investigation (still 3-6 months out) can find a cause. We had the opportunity to speak to the NTSB investigator, Joshua Cawthra, after the crowds had gone. He was a very nice young man who is one of us (die hard, old school aviators). He has a personly flight blog about his pride and joy Cessna 140 at www.n4151n.com.

    Bottomline... be careful who you speak to and what you say to reporters if you are ever around when there is a plane crash. You have no control of how they edit your interview once they get it back to the newsroom, so try to get a feel of what kind of story the reporter is trying to build before you say too much. Try to keep your comments short and simple so that any amount of editing cannot change the gist of what you are saying. Above all, avoid public speculation where it might be heard by anyone outside of your close group of friends.

    Bruce
     
  2. Dec 31, 2013 #2

    Southron

    Southron

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    Sorry to learn of the crash and the fatalities.

    RULE OF LIFE:

    Never, never, never trust a reporter
    . They are looking for something "sensational" to broadcast and I have had the personal experience of reporters flat out LYING to make a story "more sensational." If they want to, they can and will edit your remarks to make it seem like you are saying something you never meant to say.

    If interviewed by a reporter. Here is your best script to follow:

    "No Comment"
     
  3. Dec 31, 2013 #3

    Pops

    Pops

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    One time the local TV station reported that my wife and I died in an aircraft crash with reporting our names. Two of my high school children were at a football game and the other son was raiding the ref in the kitchen. As far as I am concerned they are the scrum of the earth. The only thing I would say to them is **********************************. Dan
     
    1Bad88, Brian Clayton and Vipor_GG like this.
  4. Dec 31, 2013 #4

    stol

    stol

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  5. Jan 1, 2014 #5

    TFF

    TFF

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    Its always sad when the story is not right with people hurt. We had a windshield break out, with our first week on the job, low time pilot while flying over the local Class B airport giving a first time ride to someone. He did a good job keeping cool, but he lands by the ILS equipment at the end of one of the runways, so they have to close it until the FAA investigates. News reports helicopter crashes. About a week later after I put the windshield in Im putting fuel in the helicopter, someone comes over and says he is sorry about the crash and who got killed and which helicopter was it? I said this one. My favorite was I had to get a Ferry Permit to fly the helicopter 500 yards to an FBO so I could put our helicopter on a trailer; they would not let us land on the trailer.
     
  6. Jan 1, 2014 #6

    plncraze

    plncraze

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    I worked as an A&P in a small shop and one of the planes we had worked on had crashed. My bosses father had been an attorney for the county and had said to always say "No comment" when asked questions by reporters in order to leave no doubt of the intent of the speaker. Anything else r even silence cold be manipulated.
     
  7. Jan 1, 2014 #7

    BBerson

    BBerson

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    I think it's best to only report obvious facts when talking to reporters. Tell them to wait for the final NTSB report.
     

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